So, in his search to make us seem more approachable, and to reintegrate with the world of humans, Gavril’s next task for me was give you all something from my history. Now, I don’t know if any of you noticed the necklace I was wearing at the Pack summer picnic, but this is the story behind it. This is why the Beta of the Cŵn Annwn will always be wearing a Star of David necklace, because it is in memory of a young Jewish girl called Eliana, and the woman that she became.
Up until the summer of 1944, Hungary itself was allied to the Nazi regime of Germany. In theory, it meant that the Jewish population was safe from the depredations that became known as the ‘Final Solution’. Only, they were not. Perhaps they might not all have been shipped to Auschwitz, but a fair few did have that fate. The
’easier’ option of the labour camps was also a destination, but the result was still the same: families were torn apart, parents lost their children and children who should have been protected and loved, instead found themselves alone and forced to fend for themselves. The very fact that the deportations occurred, that families were torn apart was the reason why Gavril had decided that, as a Pack, we could not stand on the side-lines.
As Cŵn Annwn we had abilities open to us which made us different. After all, the geas placed on us by our Goddess requires us to carry out her work, and that means the harvesting of those who would do evil. To do so, we must be able to travel quickly. We must be stronger both physically and mentally than those we seek to bring to justice. We are not just killers though. For all the killers, there are victims, and sometimes it is the victims whom we must bring to their rest. But the thing is, we can’t save them all. We have to take into account that sometimes, even with the abilities granted to us by our Goddess, we might not be able to save them all. But what we can do is that we can try.
The ones whom Gavril thought we stood the best chance of saving were the children. He called them the hope of the future. They were indeed that. They were the hope that from the nightmare of war, some good might come of it. Some might find a way to forgive and for their spirits to thrive. It was a dream; it might be said, but it was a dream that as Cŵn Annwn, we had a chance to ensure became a reality. However, to do so, we had to save as many of those children as possible.
The majority of our own version of an Underground Railroad was handled by the daughter of Gavril and Aaleahya, Ekaterina, and the young male whom in retrospect was probably her bonded Mate. They had been together as children, and perhaps in a more peaceful time, they might have become Mates in truth, but that was not to be their fate. When Gavril had first proposed the scheme, he had known that Kat would insist on playing a major role, and to give Kat her due, she was a combination of her sire’s fairness and her mother’s passion to help others. It could be said that she could have taken no other path.
Gavril had enlisted the help of an old friend of his, a Catholic priest, whose first introduction to the Cŵn Annwn had been his attempt to baptise the daughter of the local landowner, who had shown her displeasure at the cold water by ‘flashing’ from his arms back to her mother’s arms. Aaleahya and Gavril had laughed at Kat’s actions, and had taken time to explain to the young priest that he was not crazy. Over time, Gavril and the priest became close friends, with the priest proving to be one of those individuals who could appreciate that other faiths and belief systems existed in this world. They had passed many an evening over a glass of wine, discussing the finer points of philosophy. The priest’s very open-mindedness was the reason why Gavril approached him about setting up the routes to help the children find safety away from the war.
The priest had directed Gavril to another friend of his, a Rabbi. Like the priest, the rabbi was not a young man anymore, but he could see the dangers to his congregation, and was not intending to turn down the assistance of an individual who might save even a small number of those who looked to him for guidance. The problem was that not all were as open minded. For this reason, it was a careful process, to introduce Gavril to those whom the rabbi thought might be willing to entrust their children to a stranger, and a young looking stranger at that.
Gavril was a stranger who spoke still with the slightly lilting tones of our Welsh homeland, albeit his accent was tempered by Aaleahya’s own Romanian accent.
The outline plan was that the groups of children would be assembled at a safe location: either the home of the rabbi or at the home of one of the sets of parents. It could be called a prayer meeting or a Shabbat gathering, even though celebration of the latter was becoming more difficult as the war progressed. The horror that would become known as Kristallnacht had been but a start of the animosity fostered against one race. Depending on the number of children needing to be transported elsewhere would determine the number of adult Cŵn Annwn who would meet them there. Out of necessity we dressed as most of the population, and yes, that meant that as the deprivation of the war became more significant, so do the way that we dressed, all the better to avoid the attention of the authorities. Sometimes these transports would require just Gavril, Owain and me, and sometimes it would be more. That was a danger in itself since the gathering of that many people would be open to an informant noticing our activities and for the sake of some small gain, reporting us to the authorities. Had that happened, then yes, we might take steps to protect ourselves, but it damaged the chances of us being able to help these people. Make no mistake, as the war progressed, that desperation became great indeed.
But these were the days before people realised just how far the Nazi war machine was prepared to go. The authorities knew, but the individual man on the ground? It was easy to fool one’s own conscience that your neighbours had chosen only to move away from the area, rather than to think that they had been deported. The stories of the camps were just that surely? Stories only. How many lives have been lost over time because neighbours turned their backs on those who might have been friends in other circumstances or perhaps even more worrying because they wished gain from denouncing a neighbour?
My apologies, I am known to be the more thoughtful of Gavril’s two Betas, not that it makes Owain somehow slow or less able that I. He has his strengths and I have mine, and together we support our friend and Alpha.
When we had determined the number of children to be transported, either we did so between the three of us, since we might transport them as long as they had skin to skin contact with us, or we took them in relays. Our initial destination was the cellars of The Hunter’s Arrow Inn. Yes, I know, it seems strange that we brought the children there, but it could be argued that it was the last place that might be expected to be used as a relay point.
It was one of the early evacuations after the Nazis had invaded Hungary. They had commandeered our home, and they had commandeered the Inn, forcing our Alpha and his Mate to accept the invasion of their home by people who were anathema to us all. It was either accept them, or everyone would suffer. Not just the Pack, but the village also, and if there was one thing that Gavril would never allow, it would be for those who looked to us for protection to suffer. We are paranormal beings. We have more means at our disposal to survive being starved, beaten and ridiculed. Humans have no such resources. For us to not use the gifts given to us by our Goddess would have been a betrayal of everything for which we stood.
So, this evacuation. I had been sent to collect a young girl. She was an only child, and her parents were dead. The neighbours had hidden her, but the net was closing. She had to be moved or, the ‘authorities’ having the mentality that they did, the whole street would have been made to suffer. She was perhaps 12 years old, slim, pale skinned as were most of her race, and big, dark eyes that saw into the soul, as much as my own abilities allowed me to do.
The house was in a quiet suburb of Paris, and if one closed one’s eyes, it might almost be as if the war was not real. But then things would stand out, not least of which was the lack of children playing in the streets. War was a real and present thing, even in this quiet street, and here, the war against the Jews was in earnest. What was yet to become the norm in Hungary was happening here.
She had not said much to me when I arrived. She was old enough to know why I was there, even if her former neighbours had not told her. One of them waited with her, smoothing the child’s braided hair, and I could see the fear in the older woman’s eyes, and the sure knowledge of what might be her fate if it was known that she had sheltered ‘an enemy of the regime’, a child. She wore a dark dress, no different from any other child, apart from one thing: a yellow star sewn onto her dress, the symbol on which the authorities insisted to mark her as Jewish.
I was conscious that my size and my height in comparison to the girl’s slender form. Crouching down, to bring my head closer to her, I had given her a half smile, trying to put her at ease, even in these difficult circumstances. Her face was thin, showing the deprivation that was becoming the norm for people here. She had no coat, so I had pulled off my jacket to give it to her, even though it meant that the damning yellow star was concealed, an act which might have meant even more trouble for both her and the family which have given her shelter. Given my size in relation to her, the jacket had swamped her.
She had smiled shyly. “Thank you, sir.” Then she had looked worried. “I have nothing to give you in return.”
“Nothing is required, child.” I said gently.
“But my Mama said I must always give my thanks.” She looked thoughtful, before she reached inside her dress, and pulled out a long chain. “This was my Mama’s but she gave it to me ... just before.” Her voice broke slightly. “I want you to have it. Will you wear it?”
I looked at the chain, and the small pendant that she placed in my larger hand. I knew that her faith was passed down the matrilineal line. Giving me this link with her mother was more than just thanks. This was a gift of considerable value, and one which I had to acknowledge.
“I will wear it so that one day I might return it to you, little one.” I promised her softly. She had smiled, and placed a light kiss on my cheek.
“Then we have a deal.” She had whispered to me.
We left the building, walking some way down the street, before we slipped into a doorway, and I was able to transport her to the cellars at Hunter’s Inn. Kat and Sandu took over from there. As we had for others of her age, a family were waiting to welcome her in the States, and she would travel there via Wales.
After the war, even though I had never said as much to my Alpha, I could not help but watch over those children whom I had helped escape from the carnage of war. So many had died, and in comparison, we had managed to rescue such a small number. When they came to the USA, it was a far from easy process. We were conscious that this was the land where a boatload of Jewish refugees had been turned away, and forced to return to Europe, where many perished. Fortunately, we were not without our connections. As the children grew to adulthood, the Negrescu Foundation, established for reasons of sorrow within our own Pack, provided them with grants that they might establish businesses, attend college, build careers and in some way demonstrate their gratitude for the fact that they lived when so many had perished.
This girl, Eliana, thrived in her new life, yet it seemed that she did not forget either. Despite my best attempts to conceal my identity, she knew who I was. I would see her flash a quick smile in my direction sometimes, or when she stood from the bench in the park on which she had been reading a book, she would leave something, a thoughtful look on her face. It might be a poem or a story, handwritten. Always it would be dedicated to “My Angel”. I felt a sense of guilt for the way that each of these tokens became precious to me, a reminder of a small light that had burned in a time of darkness. As each beautiful piece of calligraphy was stored with the others in a carved box in my rooms, I would smile. Much had been lost in the war, but this one girl, she reminded me that light can come from the darkness.
I had not forgotten my promise to her. I wore the necklace she had given me, but each time I saw her, when I might have returned it to her, it was strange, but she had shaken her head, almost as if she had divined my intent and wished me to keep her gift for the moment. I lost track of her when she married, not realising that the man who would become our public liaison for the Foundation was none other than her son. When I found Eliana again, she was an old woman, dying from cancer. Still, that smile was there, when she recognised me.
“Have you come to take me home, my friend and protector.” She had whispered, a combination of the morphine and her own fatigue.
I nodded, unable to speak initially. “I looked for you, as I promised. I said that at the very least, I would do this for you.” I held out the gold chain and its little pendant, perhaps a bit more worn from my wearing it every day. Gently, she had folded my fingers around it.
“Keep it safe for me.” She whispered. “I have lived a long life, full of love and laughter, but you? You still grieve, my angel and protector. Keep it, and perhaps one day, you too will know love and you too will be able to laugh again.”
She had given a soft sigh, as I absorbed her soul, her life fulfilled. In her memory, I will continue to wear her gift and I will treasure the memory of a young girl who hid her fear and maintained the purity of her soul in house in Paris whilst the insanity of war raged around her.
As I watched Eliana grow, I used to wonder what it must be like to have someone, just one person rather than a Pack, with whom I might share my life. What might it be like to hold my own child in my arms? What might it be like to be held by another, the closeness acting as a shield against anything the world might throw at us? Yes, I had seen that closeness between my Alpha and his Mate, a love that continued to grow, and continued to thrive despite the loss of their only child during the war.
That was not for me. I had betrayed the trust that my Alpha had held for me, when I had failed to protect him and his Mate from the attacks of the Nazis who had invaded our home. For me, this was as close as I would come. My lot was to witness the affection and support of a couple, but never to feel it myself.
Perhaps, if I had not failed my Alpha and his Mate, my life would be different, but it is what it is. This is the will of my Goddess, that I atone for my failure. I accept that.
But, I can’t help but wonder, as I watched that girl, now a woman, with her husband and children. What if things had been different?